Rejections Update or: The Speadsheet That Ate My Life

Where I’m at:

  • Rejections: 22
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Total submissions: 48
  • That breaks out to 23 poems being read by editors (or undergrads in charge of slush piles) a total of 207 times.
  • Total submissions last year at this time: 0

Meanwhile I am still doing a one-week-per-month “poetry cleanse,” and that’s the main way I’m generating new work and working through revisions.

Reader, may I be perfectly frank about this experience?

It’s fucking exhausting.

Some organizational issues that have come up:

  • It’s getting harder to keep track of versions. There have been a couple poems I sent out where I find I’m relieved when it gets rejected, because I’ve since revised it. I suppose this is a known hazard of Poet Life.
  • The spreadsheet has become a bit unwieldy. In the process of putting together packets that are appropriate to each journal, I’ve gradually lost my neat “Group A / Group B / Group C” logic. At this point I’m just keeping one poem at no more than 10 places, though, in looking at Duotrope’s data on acceptance rates, I am highly unlikely to have to pull a poem. Here’s a bird’s eye view of the spreadsheet now:
“Hope: A Conceptual Artwork”

But you know, I can deal with all that. The real issue is that I feel I’ve lost any sense of joy in this process. I feel beaten down. I’ve often approached burn-out in my day job, but to come up against it in my writing practice is a fun new experience.

I was watching a documentary on the making of Sense8, and the cast and crew were talking about the way the Wachowskis work:

“It’s really incredible to watch how they work. When they show up on a set, they use everything.”

“They are constantly open to inspiration, and taking inspiration from wherever in the atmosphere, the soil, the people, whatever that’s there at the moment, and take what they have on the page… as a blueprint. They allow it to come to life and be alive in that moment.”

“They enjoy putting things together; they enjoy trying things. We, often times, we’ll cut things one way, it’ll work, but let’s try this way. Let’s try something like this. Let’s try it like that.”

“Let’s just try things, because that’s what we do.”

“We try things. Yeah. Let’s try this.”

As I listened to this (and rewound it like three times) I thought, yes, this is what the work looks like. And what I’m doing now feels like the exact opposite of this. And I realized that I don’t need to keep up with some arbitrary goal. And I felt a weight lift off of me, a weight I didn’t even acknowledge I was carrying.

What is creativity? It’s labor, for sure, sometimes difficult labor. But it leaves you with more satisfaction and ambition, not less. In the past months, I’ve really lost that lightness in the midst of my dark, stressed “submit all the time” mood. “Let’s just try things” implies a sense of deep confidence in your process. It says that possibility is as important as the numbers. That progress is not always linear or planned.

Being rejected repeatedly is also a kind of labor. It’s good to approach it as a game, for sure. But it’s also demoralizing, and I have to acknowledge that.

Am I just not cut out for this?

I could do with less torture, and more trust.

Film editors discussing Wachowski sisters’ process

Rejections Update or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spreadsheet

While I’m not yet on track to hit 100 rejections in 2017, I do have exponentially more submissions out than I did last year at this time.

What my submissions spreadsheet looks like:

submissions

  • Rejections so far: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Total submissions: 21
  • Total submissions last year at this time: 0

I currently have three separate groups of poems out to journals/contests; each packet has between three and five poems. I guess you could call this cheating as far as the 100 rejections project goes, but I figured it’s more important to get things circulating than to have each packet be the maximum possible size.

As I send poems out, I’ve been putting them on a master list called “finished.” (Let’s accept on faith for the moment that anything is ever finished.) I added a column for category or theme… which is cool.. now I can see, for example, that I have more Greek myth poems than I thought I did. I have no idea if this means I’ll ever have a themed manuscript. I generally feel that I write too catholically to ever produce such a thing, despite how popular they are right now. But as far as the next iteration of the/a book, well, it’s not exactly “in progress”… but I’ll call it “closer to existing” than it was a few months ago.

What my “finished poems” tab looks like:

finished poems 2

What I look at when I start to lose energy:

mediocre white man
As another poet said of our current administration, “I will never have imposter syndrome again.”

In other news, a poet friend made this book cover art out of my recent hand x-ray. In honor of International Women’s Day:

jeanne obbard tired of your shit

What’s next?

I’m still in a state of desolation and shock. And, if we’re being honest, I’m also afraid. The number of anxiety attacks I’ve had in the last day alone… sheesh.

But I like order and I like lists. So here are my plans as they’ve evolved in the past week.

“What you can do, or dream you can, begin it” – Goethe

Take action.

And this is important: take action in a way that you can sustain. Not everybody is cut out for the kinds of action extroverts feel comfortable with. I’m all for stretching my abilities, but choosing a method that goes against your essential personality will make you miserable, and miserable people give up. I truly believe that introverts and high sensitivity folks have something unique and necessary to contribute. Stay open to the ways you can leverage your particular strengths. (I’m so sorry I used “leverage” as a verb. We’re in dire times, okay?)

Choose some things you can do and keep doing. Set up recurring donations – some good organizations are mentioned at the end of John Oliver’s show (and he has other bracing things to say as well). Volunteer, in any capacity at all. Get engaged in local politics. Put your representatives on speed dial, because emails and social media might feel good, but don’t seem to impact much.

“Garbage in, garbage out.” – Apocryphal

Stop reading, and sharing, crap news sources.  Keep your critical thinking skills honed. Try not to get sucked in to either too-optimistic or too-pessimistic predictions.

“The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”  – Hugo Black

Support the free press.

Donald Trump has shown a consistent hostility towards journalists and the free press – his campaign revoking press passes willy-nilly right up to the moment I’m writing this. He has stoked actual physical violence against journalists. That’s in keeping with his intentional policy of obfuscation (eg, the non-existent tax returns, his ridiculous cribbed doctor’s letter). So fight back by supporting transparency and good reporting. Buy a subscription to a newspaper – national, local, or both.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first.”

Get enough sleep. Get enough to eat. I know there are approximately four thousand articles to read and ten thousand comments to make and eleven bazillion mansplainers out there on social media, doing their mansplainy thing. In the long run, though, 85% of that will fall by the wayside. Better to read a book or watch TV and gather your strength for the next action.

And by the same token…

Resist predictions. I know there’s an entire industry built on breathlessly predicting what will happen next. NPR and everybody else is spending a ton of time talking about the kind of president Donald Trump might be. I understand journalists have to have this discussion, but I don’t. I want to stay informed, but there’s a fine line between informed and wasting my energy freaking out about things that haven’t happened. We don’t know exactly what will happen. And for sure some of it will be very bad. But the best way to be prepared for very bad is to stop anticipating it, and instead build up our reserves of energy and determination.

“What you focus on expands” – Oprah Winfrey

Here’s an unpleasant truth: We’ve given Donald Trump way too much attention. I’d even argue that that attention is what got him where he is. The sheer spectacle of rightwing batshittery; those stupid, sixth-grade-reading-level tweets. He’s had practice being a character in a reality TV show; it’s his favorite role.

I have given Donald Trump all the focus I intend to give him. I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about him; I don’t want to spend time looking at him or listening to him. There is nothing he’s going to say that will be outside his norm, which I’ve become an unwitting student of. Have you heard this man speak or read his tweets? His communication skills are, how best to say this… streamlined. He seems to use about a hundred words tops, and unlike a poet, he hasn’t even gotten the good out of those hundred. On any given day, you can get the news about what he and his professional hatemonger buddies are planning in about five minutes. Is there nuance? Sure. But not nearly as much as we’ve been conditioned to believe by the 24-hour news cycle.

Here is who I am paying attention to instead: our Democratic leaders. The ones who have been fighting this a lot longer than I have. The ones who have read the briefing books, written their own books, taught law school, community-organized, put in the intellectual and emotional labor necessary to have some thoughts worth listening to: Barack and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton; Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tammy Duckworth. And all the other leaders I don’t know about yet, who are going to emerge from this crucible.

“some chick says thank you for saying all the things I never do / I say you know the thanks I get is to take all the shit for you
it’s nice that you listen / it’d be nicer if you joined in / as long as you play their game girl / you’re never going to win” – Ani DiFranco

So you’re a member of the “majority” and you want to be an ally. Put on a safety pin, don’t put on a safety pin. I think there are legitimate reasons to do both. But white people: The point here is not to imagine yourself as Social Justice James Bond, swooping in to save the day so you can feel great about yourself. Of course you should research de-escalation and peaceful intervention techniques. (And this wise cartoon on how to defuse harassment.)

But what’s equally important is to be the white person who speaks up to other white people. Be the white person who disrupts the dominant narrative of whiteness. There are times when I’ve heard things that are just not okay. And I was so surprised by it, each time, that I didn’t say anything. Because I wasn’t prepared. I can get prepared. I can figure out some standard phrases to address sexist / racist / xenophobic comments. I can wear a safety pin, but also a Black Lives Matter pin. Because the place where I might have the most impact is in conversation with other white people, with other white women.

Standing up for the underdog and being a hero is such an appealing notion. Engaging your own people in difficult conversations is a lot less appealing. And here’s where I’m gonna go against my previous point and say: focus on the hard thing and not just the easy thing.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison

Writers: keep writing. Write how it makes you feel. Write what you see. If you’re white, write how whiteness informs you and break it down. Write how misogyny informs your life and disassemble it. Re-read all of Angela Carter’s short stories and remember how to be subversive. I know this comes naturally to you. And know this: Poets and outsiders have always been essential to the health of the body politic. Writing is self-examination and is action. As Nigella Lawson put it in an interview recently, “I prefer to be paid to think, not to worry.” Don’t worry; think. Don’t worry; make art. (Don’t boo; vote.)


A man with fascist tendencies just got handed the most important job in the world, after a campaign in which sexism, racism and xenophobia were a feature, not a bug. A man who felt fine stoking racist and anti-Muslim hate and has made no apology for it to date. A man who explicitly said he feels entitled to sit down  next to a woman and put his hand up her skirt. That guy. All of our worst nightmares. The Pussy Grabber in Chief. He’s probably going to go down in history as the worst president of all time (sorry, W, to knock you off your pedestal). I’ve known people like him and they don’t change, because they simply don’t value change. We’ve seen the real him. So here’s my last piece of advice:

Don’t ever, ever, let this become normal. Maybe you were always in this fight or maybe you just started or maybe, like me, you’ve always felt useless. But if you were useless, then why were he and his merry band of misogynists so eager to knock you down?

When you’re lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, thinking,”Oh my god, what are the next four years going to bring?” ask yourself instead “What do I want the next four years to look like?” Because like Hillary Clinton said,

our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear; making our economy work for everyone not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.

… This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.
 
… I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Poetry Grind #2 Update

(Read about Poetry Grind #1 here.)

Poetry Grind #2 is in progress, instigated once again by the amazing K.T. Landon! This time we have 9 members; some of us are the same as last time and some are different.

It’s… different. I’m having a harder time generating new stuff. I think that’s just… life, honestly. A lot more static interfering with the signal.

On the other side of that, I’ve been using the grind as motivation to go back to older stuff that needs revising. Like, neeeeeeeds revising. Or needs to be summarily DELETED.

Do you ever just delete old work? I was always like “Save All The Things!” But in the process of moving house, I  ended up donating and throwing away bags and bags of stuff. It was easier than I thought it would be. And it was a shock to the system that I’m still recovering from, but that I needed. So now I’m doing the same thing with old drafts that never went anywhere. If there are one or two good lines in a draft, I copy/paste them into an “inspiration” document, then delete the rest.

I think the reason this works for me is that when I re-read things I don’t like, I have a really strong emotional reaction to it. I can’t stand the self-indulgence and pretentiousness. It makes me depressed and irritated. And since I’ve been keeping a journal for [redacted] years, it’s not like I don’t have those same thoughts written down somewhere else.

So I’m kind of feeling less precious about every single piece of writing.

 

detail

 

Some art stuff

p_013131

 

Life gets increasingly complicated over time. I tend to take on multiple little projects, and since I have a day job, I sometimes have to cull my activities so I can refocus on writing.

So thank you to the friend who suggested I should have a crafting room in my new place. I had been thinking of it as a writing room, but it should be more.

Over the years I have undertaken a lot of amateur art projects. Lithographs and artist’s books, pottery and collaged valentines. I like to lose objectivity in the embroidery floss aisle at the fabric store. I have a mild obsession with sewing handbags. For several months, I kept a florid visual journal using colored pencils. I used to take weird Polaroid photographs for kicks (good times, good times). I’m not saying I’m good at any of these things – that’s really not the point – just that part of valuing creativity is that the creative thing tends to leak out everywhere. Packing and moving the detritus of all these projects (or, when I was desperate and out of time, throwing them in the dumpster) forced me to think about the nature of art-making.

And this is my conclusion: art is essentially – well, disposable isn’t the right word – let’s say in transit. It passes from me and out to the world. I don’t mean that the product is worthless. My nephew wore the bracelets until they fell apart, my friends seem to love their valentines (thanks for humoring me, guys!), and somebody at the Goodwill store is going to be happy to discover that bag I made out of batik turtle fabric (uh, I hope). And yes, my mom still keeps all my pottery.

But art, the product, has meaning as we give it away.* It starts life inside us, but it’s really complete when it’s gone into someone else’s head and rearranged things a little.

 

* Or sell it, if you’re a professional.

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to K.T. Landon for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour! Here we go.

 

What are you working on?  

1. The first draft of this post. It was lengthy and pretentious, so I deleted it.

2. a. Unpacking.

2. b. My current journal is an all-white Moleskine, to inspire me to be a minimalist. (So far I’m not inspired to declutter, but I’m very inspired to complain about decluttering.)

2. c. Praying to Hermes, god of communication, that Verizon fixes my internet before Poetry Grind #2 starts on Monday.

3. I was in a boring day-long meeting, so I wrote a poem about spiders and whether or not to kill them.

 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?  

I don’t really want to answer this question. Does anyone really want to answer this question? Don’t we all think we’re in a category all our own?

My thing is, I loved studying the arts in college, but my experience of the academy was that it was a lot easier to take something apart than it was to put it together, and that the two practices – both worthy – required utterly different mindsets. So I try not to let “comparison sickness” creep into my thinking about writing. If I read a lot of Milosz, I start to sound like Milosz. But eventually I just write like me again. I’m inescapable. And the only way I can define myself better is to keep evolving.

 

Why do you write what you do?  

I have such nifty, clever ideas about what to write poems about… and instead I write about what I keep stumbling over.

I keep stumbling over approximately 40 boxes of packed books, so I’m thinking a lot about their relation to life as a writer. The carefully packed boxes from ten years ago, labeled with their exact locations on the shelves – “upper right,” “lower left,” “poetry.” (It’s kind of cute how organized I was.) The new boxes I packed more haphazardly – the books signed by my dad; the book with an ancestor’s inscription and a crumbling spine; that weird little book about wabi-sabi that I keep re-reading the first half of.  

I was a better packer in my 30s, but a worse writer. I wanted everything to be finished, to be polished off. I’d labor over one poem crankily, obsessively – open with a good idea but manage to strip away every spontaneous thought, every strange locution, until it became a hollowed-out version of what a poem should be: all the parts, no heart.

And I think about how I could easily fill up my bookcases with the books I already have. But how I need my bookshelves to not be full. They can’t just be proof of where I’ve been. The poet can’t ever think she is finished. She has to keep some open space. I try not to become too rigid, too aligned, and too full of my own history and my own certainties.

I didn’t answer the question… I think the point is, I’ll probably throw away the poem about the spiders and find it was just a way for me to get to my real topic.

 

How does your writing process work?

I keep a journal, full of unrestrained self-pity. I cherish it as proof that I got through each day. And sometimes it also functions as a first draft.

Sometimes I decide I’ll write one poem each night, which is a great way to be productive, but not as good as…

…I’ve done one month-long poetry grind, which is an incredible way to be productive.

I used to think I could only compose on paper, but the grind taught me that I can also write first drafts on a laptop, and that I can let go of things, and be looser. You never know when you’ll get to the good stuff, so the key is to just keep writing.

I like it when other people participate in the same project because it alleviates my existential suffering.

 

So that’s all there is to say about me… My nominees for The Writing Creative Process Blog Tour:

Sarah Hand is a paper mache & mixed media artist and teacher. Exploring and spreading wonder and making stuff keeps her going. She lives with her husband and unruly cats in Richmond, Virginia.

Julia L. Mayer has been a Philadelphia area psychologist, specializing in women’s identity and relationship issues for over twenty years. She’s worked with numerous young women struggling with bad boyfriend issues.

 

Poetry Grind update

So, I’m on Day 20 of the 30-day Poetry Grind exercise. I haven’t had time to post about it because I’m writing every day and I’m worn out! Woo!

There are ten people in my group. We’ve only lost one person along the way. That means nine people have been consistently sending out a draft a day, to all the others. This is completely amazing to me. These people are serious about poetry.

Some observations, in no particular order:

1. The generosity of the medium.

You can write a poem about absolutely anything. I can’t talk about what other people have written (wish I could!), but some of my topics included:

migraines

hearing aids

cosmetology school

death

my day job

12-step programs

the Poetry Grind itself

 

2. Community.

It is really, indescribably great to get to read other people’s poems every day. This will make you look forward to your inbox. Getting to see “invisible” work: the daily work of exploring a form or a theme, the daily work of hammering away at something. I get familiar with other people’s preferred forms, and I start paying more attention to my own. I see that somebody else is willing to write about x thing, and I feel like I have permission to write about x thing.

Thinking about this experience versus the classroom/workshop experience, there’s just no comparison at all. There is real value to reading someone else’s work over the long haul, in an intensive way, especially seeing the false starts and the different angles we all try in order to get inside an idea. It opens your ears to ways of thinking and approaching the work that I haven’t gotten anyplace else.

3. Conservation of energy.

You are not allowed to respond at all. GENIUS. I find it exhausting sometimes, in a workshop, to give feedback. This way, I get all the intellectual engagement but I get to reserve my energy for my own writing.

4. Discipline.

I am forced not only to generate, but I also feel motivated to get things to a respectable place. Having an audience, even if they aren’t reading what you send, pushes me to write better things. I put a lot more effort into these drafts than I would without that impetus. I don’t give up as easily. Because I feel like, if I’m asking someone to even glance over this thing, I can make it a little better. Not perfect, just a little better than I would have otherwise left it.

A friend of mine recently quoted somebody as saying that overcoming writer’s block is about the patience to keep writing even when you’re writing terrible stuff. I’ve become willing to start over and over until I get something that starts to click.

5. Cutting your losses.

Because I’m on a deadline (midnight each night) I’ve started abandoning things that don’t work, very quickly.

Having to do it every day encourages me to let go of the previous day’s effort and move on. I know I’ll come back to a lot of these pieces, but right now, I don’t have to. This is writing as a process, not a product.

6. Poetry First!*

I love my real-world writing group, but it’s a mixed group of poetry/prose, and I often write prose in it. There is nothing like having a group of just poets.

7. Conservation of momentum.

There is no slacking. Some days, you write a three-page rant. Some days, you write a three-line blurb that you wring out of your brain at the last minute. It doesn’t matter. You keep your hand in.

 

* This reminds me of Portlandia’s Women and Women First.

women and women first